(pictures to follow soon)
We knew that we were to expect corruption on both sides of the border so we devised a plan; good cop bad cop. I was naturally going to adopt the good cop role and Louise that of the unbending, outraged, purse holder white woman whom you don’t want to mess with…
First we came across the Mauritanian gendarmerie who asked me for 10€ per bike. I was on my own because, as the man of the couple, they’d asked me to follow them into their office. I told him I knew this was corruption and he said yes, it’s not obligatory to pay but he’d be very grateful. Nice chap. So I gave him what Mauritanian currency I had left as he asked politely; the equivalent of about 2€ and he thanked me profusely.
Next was the Mauritanian customs. They needed 10€ per bike to let us out… This time Bad Cop was in charge and after much huffing and puffing, and the officer explaining that he’d “been there since 8am so he needs to be paid extra” we paid him 10€. We even got a phoney receipt for it but he wouldn’t give us a bottle from one of the many cases of wine he had stashed in his office.
The third part of the process was to deal with the Mauritanian police. In order to get our passports stamped they needed 10€ per bike… Here both bad cop and good cop were outraged; how could a respectable service like the Islamic Republic of Mauritania’s police be as corrupt as the gendarmerie and the customs?? Louise caught one of them grinning and pointed it out. In the end they said “this is the Mauritanian police, you won’t be given trouble by us, please be on your way and bonne route”. 0€.
Now came the Senegalese side of the border. But first we had to pay a fee to cross the bridge. This was to be paid either in CFA or in Euro, but it was twice as expensive in Euros. We didn’t have CFA so we were shown where we could get them changed; passed the customs and police, inside the coffee shop. Here we were, walking into Senegal with no one even seeing us, let alone caring. If it wasn’t for the bikes we could have continued walking all the way to Saint Louis!
Now that the bikes were on the Senegalese side of the river we had to contend with the Senegalese police. A very official man in a football outfit watching Arsenal playing Fulham on tv. We tried to hook him by talking football but he was a nasty one. He needed 10€ per bikes to let us in. “Its official, everyone has to pay”. There seemed to be a pattern here… He wasn’t budging and after we argued about us having a reservation or not for our first night in Senegal Louise became the good cop, said we were very sorry we didn’t have a reservation, picked my passport from his desk and pushed me away. He had already stamped everything and he was missing good action on TV so we walked away without giving him a dime. We’ll done Louise! 0€.
The last official process was to get a temporary import for the bikes. This was to be done at the customs and I was concerned about this. I had read many different and conflicting tales about how, without a carnet de passage for the bikes (warranty paid at home) we could be made to pay a high price. I had also read that they didn’t give “passavants” to bikes older than 5 years old. But to our surprise the custom officer was very friendly and professional and gave us a 48h temporary import document for which he asked the equivalent of £12 for both bikes. Seemed legit to me. We had to get it prolonged in Dakar or Saint Louis as he didn’t have the authority to give us more time.
We now went back to our friend the coffee shop owner/currency exchange agent/ lady who bosses everyone around to get our very official looking insurance documents for the bikes. This lady was extraordinary, she wore a beautiful African dress with big sun glasses, two mobile phone and a calculator. She was obviously in charge as she shouted orders at the “helpers” who hung around there. She was very nice to us but she was a keen business lady. The cost of insurance for 10 days was the equivalent of 30€ for the two bikes.
We’d done it! We were in Senegal with our bikes! What a relief. And what a contrast too; the road was in perfect condition and the 30km to Saint Louis were a breeze. So many things were different on this side of the border; we saw many young men jogging along the road, lots of women (had hardly seen any since entering Western Sahara) wearing exuberantly colorful dresses and jewelry. The vegetation was lush, bananas were growing on trees, and roadside traders were selling all sorts of beautiful fruits. We were waved through checkpoints by gendarmes who gave us a welcoming salute and a big smile. After crossing Saint Louis, on our way south to the famous Zebrabar, we came across a colony of apes jumping across the road and into the bush. After weeks in North Africa and in the Sahara we were now truly in West Africa!